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This Day in History: Gordon Ray Church murder 11/21/1988 Cedar Canyon, UT

On October 25, 1988, Lance Conway Wood, newly released from the Utah State Prison, moved into the Cedar City two-bedroom apartment of his girlfriend, Brenda Stapely, and her roommate, Paula Jones. Soon after, Michael Anthony Archuleta, also just released from prison, moved into the same apartment to be with his girlfriend, Paula Jones. Wood and Archuleta had known each other in prison.On November 21, 1988, Wood and Archuleta purchased soft drinks at a local convenience store. After adding whiskey to their drinks, the two men engaged in a conversation with Gordon Church, who was seated in his car in a nearby parking lot. Church drove Wood and Archuleta up and down Main Street and then up Cedar Canyon. After returning to Cedar City, Church left Wood and Archuleta at their apartment complex. Wood and Archuleta walked to the apartment of Anthony Sich, who lived above the apartment rented to Stapely and Jones. Wood told Sich that he was going into the mountains and asked if he could borrow a pair of gloves. Sich sent Wood to retrieve the gloves from his car, and while Wood was outside, Church returned and invited him and Archuleta to go for another drive.

Church drove Wood and Archuleta back to Cedar Canyon and pulled off the road. Wood and Archuleta exited the car first and began to walk down a path. Archuleta told Wood that he wanted to rob Church, and Wood acquiesced. Church overtook the two men, and the three continued walking up the trail. As the men started back down the trail toward the car, Archuleta grabbed Church and put a knife to his neck. Although Wood attempted to stop Archuleta by grabbing his arm, Archuleta made a surface cut on Church’s neck. Church broke free and ran, but Archuleta chased after and tackled him, again putting the knife to his neck and threatening to kill him. Archuleta cut Church’s throat again so that the two cuts formed an “X” on the front of Church’s neck.

Archuleta bent Church forward over the hood of the car and, with the knife still at Church’s throat, had anal intercourse with him. At Church’s request, Archuleta used a condom. Archuleta then turned to Wood, who was standing by the trunk of the car, and asked if he “wanted any.” Wood declined. Archuleta went to the trunk of the car and opened it. He told Wood that he was looking for something with which he could bind Church. Wood removed a spare tire and a fan from the trunk, while Archuleta retrieved tire chains and battery cables. Wood remained at the rear of the car, while Archuleta returned to the front, where he wrapped the tire chains around Church. Archuleta also fastened the battery cable clamps to Church’s genitals. Wood maintained before and at trial that he removed the clamps from Church as soon as he realized what Archuleta had done.

Archuleta led Church to the rear of the car and forced him into the trunk. Wood and Archuleta replaced the spare tire and fan and drove to a truck stop near Cedar City where they purchased gas. They continued north on Interstate 15 until they reached the Dog Valley exit. They parked along a deserted dirt road where Archuleta told Wood, “You know we have to kill him.”

Archuleta removed Church from the trunk and attempted to kill him by breaking his neck. When that failed, Church suffered several blows to the head with a tire iron and a jack. The tire iron was then shoved and kicked so far into Church’s rectum that it pierced his liver. A state medical examiner testified that Church was killed by injuries to the head and skull due to a blunt force and internal injuries caused by the tire iron inserted into Church’s rectum.

Wood told police that he waited inside the car while Archuleta killed Church. Evidence adduced at trial, however, showed that Wood’s pants and jacket were splattered with blood in a cast-off pattern indicating that during the beating, Wood was within two or three feet of Church, and that Wood was facing Church when the blows were struck. A blood spot appeared on the back of Archuleta’s jacket, and Wood’s shoes bore a transfer or contact blood stain caused by contact with a bloody object. Investigators found strands of human hair consistent with Church’s hair wrapped around Wood’s shoelaces. The injuries to Church’s lower jaw were consistent with being kicked by someone wearing Wood’s shoes. Three paired lesions on Church’s back were caused by a dull-tipped instrument such as some red-handled side cutters found in the pocket of Wood’s jeans.

After Church died, Wood and Archuleta dragged his body to some nearby trees, where they covered it with branches. They swept their path with branches on the way back to the car to conceal any footprints. With Wood at the wheel, the pair again drove north on I-15. They abandoned Church’s car in Salt Lake City.

Wood called his friend Christy Worsfold and asked if he and Archuleta could come to her apartment for a few minutes. When the men arrived at the apartment, Worsfold immediately noticed that Archuleta’s pants were caked with blood. Wood explained that they had been rabbit hunting the night before, their car had broken down, and they had hitchhiked to Salt Lake. The two men then went to a thrift store, where Archuleta bought some clean pants and repeated the rabbit hunting story to the store clerk.

Archuleta discarded his bloody jeans in a drainage ditch near the 45th South on-ramp to I-15 in Salt Lake County. He and Wood then went into a nearby Denny’s restaurant, where Wood left the gloves he had borrowed from Sich. After eating, the two hitchhiked as far as the Draper exit, where Archuleta pulled out Church’s wallet, scattered its contents, and handed the wallet to Wood. They next hitchhiked to Salem, where they visited Archuleta’s father. From there, they hitchhiked to Cedar City, arriving at about 11:30 p.m.

Wood immediately went upstairs to Sich’s apartment and told him about the murder. When Sich advised him to contact the police, Wood responded, “[M]aybe I could get some kind of federal protection.” Sich and Wood walked to a local convenience store, where Wood called Brenda Stapely, who was in Phoenix, and told her that Archuleta had killed someone. Stapely contacted John Graff, Wood’s parole officer, and told him to call Wood at the store. Graff called Wood and arranged to meet him at the convenience store. Just before Graff’s arrival with the police, Wood discarded Church’s wallet.

Wood and Sich accompanied Graff and a police officer to the corrections department office, where Wood recounted the events of the previous night. The police arrested Archuleta for the murder and, after several interviews with Wood, also charged Wood with murder in the first degree, aggravated sexual assault, object rape, forcible sexual abuse, aggravated kidnapping, aggravated assault, and possession of a stolen vehicle.

(taken from appeal)

Man accused in slaying says he warned officials
Man’s killer starts new appeal of sentence
Michael Anthony Archuleta vs. Hank Galetka, Warden, Utah State Prison
Utah (2nd story)
Death row inmate requests new sentencing hearing
Judge Hears Arguments in Archuleta Death Sentence

INMATE INFORMATION

Offender Number: 100260
Offender Name: MICHAEL ANTHO ARCHULETA
DOB: Mon, 26 Mar 1962
Height: 5 Feet 8 Inches
Weight: 160
Sex: M

Aliases: MICHAEL ANTHO ARCHULETA

INMATE INFORMATION

LANCE CONWAY WOOD #31919
Status: Inmate
Mailing Address:
IDAHO STATE CORRECTIONAL INSTITUTION UNIT 09
P.O. Box 14
Boise Idaho 83707
Phone Number: 208-336-0740

IDOC Sentence Information

The sentence information shown is for active sentences under the jurisdiction, custody, and/or supervision of the Idaho Department of Correction only.
Offense: MURDER, 1ST DEGREE
Case No.: 1141
Sentence Satisfaction Date: Life

Offense: ASSAULT W/INTENT TO COMMIT RAPE
Case No.: 1141
Sentence Satisfaction Date: Life

Offense: KIDNAPPING
Case No.: 1141
Sentence Satisfaction Date: Life

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20 Responses

  1. [...] Freshman year in University one of our theatre students was murdered. Tortured. For being gay. On November 23, 1988, Gordon Church, a 28-year-old a drama student at Southern Utah [...]

  2. To Brenda Stapely or whoever: As a member of the jury for Mike Archuletta, let me say that I have watched this tragedy with disgust and loathing for 17 years. As jurors, we all wish this would just go away. We did our best. We analyzed, we listened, we watched. The verdict we came to was a fair and honest one. The penalty phase was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Again, we felt that the penalty fit the crime. This has completely changed my life. I am not the person I was, and I will forever hate Michael for this. However, I know that my pain and nightmares cannot compare to the pain that Gordon’s family must feel. If anything good has come out of this for me, it has been that I am much more tolerant of anyone who would be labeled ‘different’. Brenda, if you ever read this, I hope you have had a better chance for ‘moving on’ than I have. This continues to haunt me, and I wonder if I will ever be able to put it all behind me. Knowing he is sitting on death row at a cost of over $750,000 a year to Utah taxpayers only cements the doubts I have about the justice system in the state of Utah and in the United States.

  3. As a cousin to Gordon Church, I have waited anxiosly for Archuleta to be executed for his heinous and sickening crime. Gordon was murdered on my wedding aniversary and I was informed of it Thanksgiving day. A few weeks later I started having panic attacks. I was the mother of a 2 yr. old beautiful little girl whose mother became disabled over-night with terror, after hearing the details of Gordon’s death. I still suffer anxiety all these years later due to this horrible tradgedy.
    Ironically, I recently came across a picture of Gordon and I sitting next to eachother at the last Thanksgiving dinner we shared at his Aunt Linda’s house in Colton, Ca. just a few years before his death. We both look so happy!

  4. Is Archuleta related to David Archuleta in any way? He’s from Salt lake city Utah too.
    So does anyone have a picture of this archuleta guy?

  5. Archuletafan,

    Cedar Canyon is not Salt Lake City. Actually, not even close. In fact, Cedar Canyon is about 4-5 hour drive from here. And there are ALOT of Archueta’s in Utah, most probably not related to David.

  6. Brenda,
    I think it was courageous for you to post online. I admire your strength. I’m sure this is something you will never forget. It’s a very sad case and Archuleta lives on. It’s crazy. Keep strong.

    Corkey Meyer ~ I’m truly sad at how much this has negatively impacted your life. I can only hope there has been something positive out of this situation for you. I think it’s awesome that you were able to post here. Thank you for helping to sentence this horrible man. You have saved more lives than you realize likely! This man would have killed again, for sure, if given the opportunity. Take good care and peace be with you.

    Jan

  7. 11/21/2008….On this day I remember you my friend. The walk we took on the road to emmaus. We all still miss you. We are all married now, or still single, some with children and others on their own paths. Forever moving forward, but on this day, we stop, and even if just for a moment, we remember you.

  8. Rest in peace.

  9. I was in college with Gordon, our friendship was just beginning, he was a beautiful person with a big heart and a great sense of humor. His death impacted me deepley and after twenty years I still have the can of Mtn Dew that we toasted him with at the school memorial. I think of him often and will smile on the day M.A.A. is finally put to death. May you find peace.

  10. I dated Lance Wood a few times BEFORE he went to prison the first time. I kept in contact with him for a short time after he sentenced and as time went on on his letters to me became darker in tone, I learned from a fellow prisoner that he was raped while in prison and that he tried to escape hence him being moved from to a higher lockdown which I believe is where he became involved with Archuleta, I don’t know this as we didn’t keep up our correspodence after he was moved to a different cellblock.
    I do not in anyway condone his action (or lack of) but I do believe his time in prison and alleged rapes while he was there helped lead up to him being a part of this crime.
    My experience with him before his jail sentence was that he was gentleman, very nice and respectful of me, who made some bad decisions but in my understanding they were not violent related BEFORE he went to prison.
    Just a sad case overall, I still have his letters from before this happened and I read them and try understand how he could have became involved in this!!!!
    I am so sorry for the the friends and family of Gordon Church just an awful crime and I don’t understand how this did not receive the coverage that the Matthew Shepard case did as this could have brought hate crime awareness forward alot sooner…..

  11. I attended high school with Gordon and was very saddened to recently learn of his death. I hate to think of the pain he experieced at the hands of those two sick individuals. I pray for the comfrot and peace of his family and friends. I understand the gag order placed by the judges, I don’t care if Gordon was gay or not, and I know his family didn’t either, they loved him. I know it would be horrible to know that everytime they were seen, others around them would be remineded of the horrible things done to Gordon, but I do believe that this should have been billed as a hate crime from day one. We should all remember that hate crimes are committed against women, men and children, regardless of race, financial circumstances, or sexual preference. My heart goes out to Gordons family and to the families of all hate crime victims……M. Cole

  12. Don’t judge Michael for the mistake he made. He has to take it up with God when the time comes. It is sickening to read things like “will smile on the day M.A.A. is finally put to death.”
    I am not related to Michael. I have never even met him. But I know enough about him to know that he made a terrible choice, and is extremely remorseful about it. You may smile the day he is put to death, but I will just be happy that he will finally be in a better place than death row.
    One should try to understand the whole situation before jumping to conclusions about a persons character. There are details about Michael that were never disclosed in media reports or the courtroom. Maybe if the world was a little more loving, things would have been different.
    Unless you have never made a mistake, committed a sin, or hurt someone physically or emotionally; you have no right to judge Michael Archuletta

    • Are you shitting me? I hate to even comment on this subject since I have so much hate towards Michael Archuleta, but I can’t believe you are telling us not to judge him. I have never shared this information, but my mother was raped by Michael and ruined a portion of her young adult life. Michael will perish in hell time and time again!!!

  13. I don’t know where you got your “This Day in History” information about the crime, but it is sorely lacking in fact. I was the court reporter. I should know.

    • Lesley,

      It is taken directly from the appeal of Michael Archuleta, as stated above the first link. You will want to contact his attorney and tell them that the appeal is incorrect in facts.

  14. There are so many holes, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I made a copy of the entire trial–pre-hearings and all–for myself, knowing that this would be a long and arduous process and not wanting to duplicate it in the future. This site is a waste of time. However, first off, Gordon Ray Church never “invited” the defendants into his car the second time. From then on, he was a hostage. The trials were bifurcated, so I only know first-hand about the Archuleta trial. But they were equally responsible. This is an act, which singly never would have occurred. But together, did. It truly disturbs me how facts are misconstrued. At the time of his trial I was a proponent of the death penalty. Now I am not. It was a heinous, horrible crime, and at least Michael Anthony Archuleta had the balls to testify as to his part in it unlike his co-defendant, who didn’t testify in his.

    • Lesley,

      All information posted was directly from the appeal. Nothing from my personal opinion or paraphrasing. Please contact the prosecuting attorney to see how the facts in the appeal can be corrected. I do not know.

  15. To M: I AM a relative of GORDON, and Mr Archuletta and Mr. Wood will never recieve the earthly punishment that I would see them recieve. I have no clue how his parents live a peace-filled life knowing that those murderous animals live after they tortured their beloved son to death. Maybe Archy and he friend Woody should just recieve a crowbar up their rectums til it punctures their livers, their testicles hooked up to a car battery and their necks slit as punishment. Then let them walk out of prison on their own two feet.
    You are so forgiving….maybe you wouldn’t mind Archy and Woody doing this to you???

  16. Even now, gay people are such a scapegoat and a target for hate; it takes such a brutal act on a person before anyone stops to realize even gay people are indeed human and an integral part of society,. We are all of the same form and all really delicate creatures who cannot stand this type of abuse without are souls departing the body. We have laws for a reason and I see no benefit for anyone involved to drag out the penalty phase for years. Gordons life was taken in a few horrific hours and yet his perpetrators, eat , breath and have lived for over 21 years.

    Why are they still living? They both deserved the death penalty, since Archuleta was the only one to receive it, lets get him what he deserve and get this garbage off the citizens bill. It is way over due…kill the freak. And lets hope his accomplish has a daily torture in prison. Sorry for my hatred but thats what hate spawns.

  17. These two clowns look like Barnum and Bailey. Where did they find these idiots?

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